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Stressed? Talk to a sheep

Sue Kirkham has an unusual way of coping with the strains of headship.

The president of the Association of School and College Leaders likes to chat with the sheep who graze in the garden of her rural cottage in Staffordshire. "After a long day I find talking to the sheep very relaxing," she said.

The 57-year-old head of Walton high school has good reason to be exhausted.

As well as leading ASCL, she chairs the Qualification and Curriculum Authority's inquiry into coursework, which recently recommended teachers check pupils' essays for plagiarism from the net.

Mrs Kirkham is also a board member of the QCA and National Assessment Agency and was part of the group led by Sir Mike Tomlinson which examined A-levels. She bitterly regrets that ministers ignored the inquiry's recommendations. "Why would teenagers want to spend even longer sitting in sports halls?" she said.

She taught languages in a variety of schools, has written books on A-level French, and spoken at education events around the world, including representing the British Council in Moscow.

Last year she flew to Sri Lanka to see the areas hit by the tsunami, and has since led an ASCL charity project which raised more than pound;72,000 to rebuild schools there.

Mrs Kirkham is known for her no-nonsense approach and predilection for jackets with large shoulder pads.

"She expects high standards if you're going to work with her and survive,"

he said Bruce Fletcher, acting head at Walton high Her husband Glynn Kirkham is a Wolverhampton university academic who has been researching school leadership. He will argue in a seminar at the ASCL conference tomorrow that heads should behave more like Paul Gascoigne, who famously cried during the 1990 World Cup than Caligula, who refused to show emotion at family funerals.

Does he extend this advice to his wife? "I wouldn't put her on the Gazza-Caligula spectrum," Mr Kirkham said, tactfully. MS

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